Confocal TechMed wins second-place prize in TTU Innovation Hub's competition
A startup team of Texas Tech med students is following a surefire prescription for innovation. It combines medical education, technology, and engineering with a heavy dose of support for entrepreneurship.
Confocal TechMed's innovation for skin cancer screening earned the startup the $3000 second-place prize in the 2020 iLaunch Competition. The TTU Innovation Hub's annual Shark TankTM-like competition is open to entrepreneurs from Texas Tech and the West Texas community.
The Confocal TechMed team includes four co-founders: second-year medical students and dual degree MBA graduates Jasmin Rahesh and Rohan Anand; second-year medical student Ebrahim Payberah; and first-year medical student John Ciubuc, who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.
Solving problems and pain points
The startup is developing a fast, easy-to-use tool to help doctors analyze images from a non-invasive method of skin cancer screening. Ciubuc explains, "It's basically a machine-learning algorithm to read and interpret 3D images of the skin in real-time from a confocal microscope. The specialized microscope can be placed directly on the patient's skin, so there's no need for a biopsy. It's so specialized, however, that doctors need six months of training to learn to interpret the images it produces."
Anand says, "The idea behind our technology is our algorithm will immediately signal to the physician whether or not the image indicates further inspection is warranted, based on patterns it recognized. It will reduce the screening process time, save patients money, and ultimately help save lives."
Last Fall, Rahesh and Anand began looking for a startup idea through the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's chapter of Sling Health, a nationwide student-led incubator program. It involves interdisciplinary teams working on solving real-life clinical problems submitted to the AMA Physician Innovation Network database.
Connections and collaborations
Rahesh says Sling Health's goal is to integrate medical education and engineering while helping students learn entrepreneurship through creating technology and devices. "In the list of clinical problems Sling Health gave us, dermatologists said the long, complicated, and expensive process involved in diagnosing skin cancers is a major problem. With our medical and business backgrounds, Rohan and I knew that was something we could figure out a way to solve-- with the right help. So we networked to find other people who could add needed expertise in different areas to the project."
The team credits Payberah's connections for giving them the idea to base their technology on confocal microscopy. He says, "Early on, we asked my cousin who is a pathologist and professor at Rutgers University if he had any advice on our project. Well, Rutgers is one of the leading institutions in the country for confocal microscopy, and that's what he recommended."
That connection also created another collaboration for the team. Confocal TechMed is using more than 1.5 million images and other information from Rutgers to help develop their algorithms.
Hustle helping hand
Through Sling Health, the team also knew the Innovation Hub was a source of help and support for their startup. Rahesh says, "Weston Waldo (Program Director at the Innovation Hub) put us in touch with Dr. Phil Sizer (the TTUHSC School of Health Professions' Associate Dean for Research). He's the CEO of TK Quant, a Hub tenant that graduated from some of the Hub's startup programs and the national level NSF I-Corps program. He's been in our shoes before. He's been a tremendous resource when it came to preparing for the iLaunch Competition. iLaunch has allowed us to get a clearer vision of our product and what we want to do with it in the future."
Rahesh adds, "We wouldn't have this team or gotten where we are without the combined hustle and spirit of collaboration shared within the entrepreneur community. We thank Texas Tech, the Health Sciences Center, Sling Health, and the Innovation Hub for creating such an atmosphere of encouragement."